I finally made it to New Mexico to do the Bataan Memorial Death March. This year is a little different.
I often think my greatest gift is making and keeping extraordinary people as my friends as evidenced by this e-mail. I have lived an amazing and blessed life. I am trying to pay back some of the kindness I have received in my life by doing something for a fallen hero.
Petty Officer 1st Class (SEAL) Neil Roberts
In support of Operation Anaconda, the opening salvo in America’s new war on terror, deep in the mountains of Afghanistan PO1 Neil Roberts was a member of a special operations element that was to be inserted on a reconnaissance and scouting mission (Couch, 2004).
As the big CH-47 Chinook helicopter flared for landing, it came under heavy machine gun and rocket fire. 3 RPG Rockets ripped through the helicopter without exploding. There was confusion in the troop compartment as the deck become slick with fluid from ruptured hydraulic lines.
An air crewman slipped from the exit ramp and dangled from a nylon tether. Neil immediately went to his aid and hauled him back into the aircraft as the pilot struggled to gain control of the dying aircraft.
Neil fell from the helicopter just as the pilot regained control and veered away from the enemy fire. The pilot crashed landed his helicopter a few miles away from the insertion site. All aboard were safe-all except Neil.
He activated his tracking beacon to let his teammates know he was alive, and crawled away from the insertion site. There were more than 60 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters around him.
He should have gone to ground and waited for help. The machine gun emplacement that had so badly shoot up the Chinook was still active. Neil knew his teammates would come back for him. He knew they would face another around of deadly fire. Neil was a SEAL to his core and did what he was trained to do, what he was born to do- he attacked!
He maneuvered 200 yards to a position above and behind the al-Qaeda gunners. With his grenades, he destroyed the machine gun and killed the gun crew. Then the remaining al-Qaeda fighters came for him.
Outnumbered, outgunned and wounded several times, he fought until he exhausted all his ammunition. Finally after almost two hours of bloody fighting he was cut down and al-Qaeda dragged his body away. But SEALs never abandon their own.
Less than an hour later Navy SEALs, assisted by British and American special operations personnel were on the ground to help Neil. After 8 hours of fierce, close-quarter combat, Neil’s body was recovered by his teammates. More than 300 al-Qaeda died at the hands of the American and British special operators. 6 other Americans died in the battle; 2 Navy SEALs were seriously wounded. A stiff price, but thanks to the sacrifice of his brothers, Neil would be able to go home to his family (Couch, 2004).
Neil was one of 12 children, including a twin brother. He left behind a widow and an 18 month old son. Before Neil deployed to Afghanistan, he left a letter with his wife and instructions that it be opened only if he were killed. Patty Roberts made the letter public, wanting everyone to know of her husband’s devotion to his nation and brother warriors. In part the letter read:
“I consider myself blessed with the best things a man could ever hope for. My childhood is something I’ll always treasure. My family is the reason I’m the person I am today. They supported and cared for me in the best way possible.
The Navy, although I sacrificed personal freedom and many other things, I got just as much as I gave. My time in the Teams was special. For all the times I was cold, wet, tired, sore, scared, hungry and angry, I had a blast. The bad was balanced equally with the good.
All the times spent in the company of my teammates was when I felt the closest to the men I had the privilege to work with. I loved being a SEAL. If I died doing something for the Teams, then I died doing what made me happy. Very few people have the luxury of that.”
The dramatic circumstances of Neil’s death – the lone man, hopelessly outgunned, going down fighting – makes him a legend among the Special Operations Community. The Davy-Crockett-in-the-Alamo aspect captured hearts and imaginations outside the military as well. The Battle of
Roberts Ridge, as Roberts’ last stand and the subsequent rescue attempt came to be known, would go on to be the subject of two books, a Time magazine cover story and a two-hour NBC news special. Neil’s Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, hangs on the wall at the headquarters of Navy SEAL Team Six as a reminder of his courage (Owen, 2012).
Doing Bataan for Neil’s Family
I am sponsoring the son and wife of Neil Roberts by doing the Bataan Memorial Death March. Any money I raise will be used to send his family to summer camp. The mission is being undertaken by my buddy Kent Solheim, a highly decorated Special Forces Officer who lost his leg in the battle of Karbala, Iraq.
His mission in that Gold Star Families (folks that have lost Service Members in the line-of-duty) Teen Adventures provides unique summer adventure opportunities for Gold Star Youth. The purpose of the programs is to provide healing, mentorship, development, and opportunity to the children of special operations Service Members who lost their lives in the line of duty.
This is a strictly a “mom and pop” operation with his amazing wife Trina building and designing the website and Kent spending his nights on the phone arranging support for this heroic endeavor. Here is the link: http://www.gstadventures.org/.
The Camp is one of the four camps offered by Gold Star Teen Adventures, a non-profit organization that excels to serve the surviving children of special operations service members killed in the line of duty by providing healing, mentorship, and character development opportunities for these families.
Adventure SCUBA advanced Alumni Bonaire 2014 offers Gold Star families the opportunity to earn their advanced open water certification in the scuba diving Mecca of Bonaire in the Caribbean. The cost of this camp is $3000 per family member.
I will match any donation dollar for dollar. Anything given from just a $1 to something more would be appreciated. I thought this was an awesome opportunity to give something back to a family that had given so much. Neil’s son is now almost 14 years old and Kent said he looks a lot like his dad. Here is the link:
I will keep you guys updated on how my training is going. This will be the 6th time I am doing the Bataan Death March and I think it will be my best year yet. Know you are all missed and thought of often.
Couch, D. (2004). The Finishing School: Earning the Navy SEAL Trident. New York City: Crown Publishing Group.
Owen, M. (2012). No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission
That Killed Osama Bin Laden. New York: Bantam Publishing.